environment and natural resources

Stream health may hinge on violent floods, drought

CORVALLIS - A group of studies by an aquatic entomologist at Oregon State University suggest that at least some of the problems facing streams in the American West may relate to their loss of extreme water flows, ranging from severe droughts to flash floods.

The same dams that have tamed the violent or extreme nature of these streams may also be disrupting aquatic ecosystems that depend on such events to favor native species, keep out invasive plants or animals, and maintain a natural ecological balance that evolved over millennia, researchers say.

Studies ranging from the unusual evolution of a giant waterbug in high mountain streams of Arizona to the mysterious disappearance of cottonwoods on river banks across much of the West all point to the same conclusion - that streams and rivers in the West have evolved with regular floods, droughts and everything in between, and any disruption of those patterns may pose a risk to native ecosystems.

"Right now in the American West there are more than 15,000 dams," said David Lytle, an OSU entomologist. "They remove the extreme flow events that used to exist, preventing both the major floods and the extremely low flows during summer months. But the increasing level of knowledge we're gaining about these extreme disturbances suggest they are critical to many native ecosystems."

The concept is not new, Lytle said. But its implications are significant.

Just as forest scientists have discovered in recent decades the critical role of fire in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems in many areas, so too are stream ecologists now learning more about the nature and extent to which streams have been disrupted by efforts to tame their extreme events. Many other natural disturbances - windstorms, insect outbreaks, terrestrial droughts - may also have similar effects.

But recent research done by Lytle and his colleagues in this area, published in several professional journals including Ecology and American Naturalist, is revealing what he calls the "footprint of evolution" in some stream systems, in which certain species are fully adapted to extreme events and may even depend upon them for survival.

In one mountain stream system in Arizona that is periodically blasted by flash floods, caddisfly larvae are almost completely scoured out of the stream by the floods. About 96 percent disappear. But through generations of evolution, a significant amount of the insects metamorphose into their flying adult phase during a period that's timed exactly with the most common flood season, keeping them out of the stream while the waters sweep by.

Research has been done on cottonwood trees that once grew thickly along the banks of many western streams and rivers, providing shade, nutrients and woody debris that further aided the health of the ecosystem. These trees can experience some mortality due to floods. But it has also been learned that cottonwoods need bare, mostly scoured banks, the types of conditions common after a flood, to germinate their seeds and reproduce. And cottonwoods are now in serious decline in many areas.

In the Colorado River, loss of flooding following construction of the Glen Canyon Dam has caused a wholesale shift in fish and fauna, allowing invasive species to displace native ones. The problem is bad enough that "simulated floods" have been attempted with rapid water releases - so far with mixed ecological results.

"We've seen the ecology of many western streams change dramatically," Lytle said. "Some fish species have declined or disappeared, possibly relating to the change in flow regime or other factors. And the removal of these floods and droughts, which native species could handle but many others cannot, opens the door to a whole range of new, invading competitors."

Lytle's research documented another interesting example of adaptation to extreme conditions which appears to go back 150 million years. There are species of giant waterbugs that thrive in some desert streams. During a major rainstorm of the type that can cause flash floods, Lytle and his colleagues once observed these water bugs do a mass exodus from the stream, literally marching up the canyon wall for protection just before a flood burst through the area. They came back within a day.

Later, in a controlled experiment that simulated heavy rain, the scientists were able to trigger the same behavior. The insects thought a flood was coming and headed for cover.

"If you look carefully for adaptation to extreme events, you tend to find it," Lytle said. "This includes adaptation by plants, insects, fish, trees, all the components of a stream ecosystem."

The research suggests that loss of extreme events is a major factor in the problems being experienced across much of the West in stream ecology, Lytle said. At this point, aquatic organisms, including fish, are among the most imperiled fauna in North America, he said, with problems often far surpassing those of their terrestrial neighbors.

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David Lytle, 541-737-1068

OSU scientists find deformities in Newberg pool fish

CORVALLIS - After the first year of a two-year study, Oregon State University scientists have found about three times as many juvenile minnows with backbone deformities in the Newberg Pool of the Willamette River than at a site 80 miles upstream near Corvallis.

Larry R. Curtis, an OSU professor of environmental toxicology, will present preliminary results of a Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board-funded study on pike minnow fish deformities in the Willamette River to the Oregon Legislative Emergency Board in Salem this Thursday (Jan. 9).

For years, the Newberg Pool of the Willamette, just south of Portland, has been a notorious place for finding a high percentage of young fish with skeletal deformities.

"There's significant public concern over deformed fish in the Newberg Pool of the Willamette River, but little scientific basis for explaining the deformities," said Curtis, head of the OSU Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology. "These fish are sentinels for environmental contamination. People want to know what's causing the deformities and whether they have any implications for human health."

As the lead investigator of OSU's interdisciplinary study of the Willamette River and its deformed fish, Curtis has gathered together OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station toxicologists, chemists, microbiologists and fisheries biologists in an effort to determine the prevalence of skeletal deformities in juvenile fish in stretches of the Willamette River near Newberg and Corvallis.

The OSU researchers also are trying to determine what causes these deformities. They are comparing the physical and chemical conditions and the accumulated toxicants in ovaries of fish from adult northern pike minnows at Corvallis and Newberg and conducting laboratory studies that might show a link between physical or chemical conditions in the river and the incidence of deformities.

OSU researchers in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department of Microbiology have examined the deformities and found tiny parasites associated with some of the deformed fish. The suspected parasite is a microscopic myxozoan in the genus Myxobolus, a relative of the microorganism that causes whirling disease in salmon.

There are no human health threats associated with this fish parasite, said Curtis.

So far, the researchers have found most of the physical and chemical characteristics of the water at Newberg and Corvallis to be similar. Temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and nitrate levels did not vary significantly between the two sites.

The investigators detected similar low concentrations of heavy metals cadmium, copper, lead and zinc at both sites, although they found one high zinc sample measured in the Newberg Pool. They found concentrations of persistent organic contaminants including dieldrin, DDT, DDD and DDE to be two to four times higher in Newberg Pool than Corvallis, but all detections were extremely low, below one part per trillion, said Curtis.

They haven't yet completed analyses for other chemical classes, including currently used pesticides. The researchers are now measuring persistent bioaccumulative toxicants in ovaries collected from adult pike minnows in both sites on the river. Results are not yet available.

In recent experiments, newly fertilized eggs were exposed to river water from each site for 15 to 47 days. They didn't detect any differences in development between fish reared in water from either location.

The scientists have another field season, spring through the fall of 2003, to collect data and fish and study both sites on the Willamette. They will also conduct more laboratory experiments on zebrafish with various concentrations and fractionations of toxic materials from the river water from each site. The final report will come out in 2004.


Larry Curtis, 541-737-1764

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Testing water in the Willamette

Watershed Stewardship Manual Goes Digital

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The hefty manual that has taught nearly 1,000 Oregonians how to protect and manage rivers, streams and wetlands has gone digital.

"Watershed Stewardship: A Learning Guide" is now available on CD from the Oregon State University Extension Service. The digital format makes it easier and more affordable to share sections of the 450-page manual used in OSU Extension's Master Watershed Stewards program, a streamside learning program similar to the OSU Master Gardener program.

"An increasing number of people are interested in watershed stewardship and reading sections of the manual," said Derek Godwin, watershed management specialist with OSU Extension Service and leader of the Watershed Steward program. "We are offering the CD version to better meet their needs."

Whether presented on paper or CD, the Master Watershed Stewards program is much more than a creek-side biology primer. It is a comprehensive resource for creating community-based watershed councils, even in areas polarized by water politics.

Before any mention of hydrology, water quality or riparian habitat, the Learning Guide focuses on communicating effectively, developing dialogue and running a fair, open and honest meeting. It discusses "body language" and "active listening" and gives guidance for expressing and receiving anger. By addressing these human factors, the program has become a practical tool for consensus building.

"It is amazing that despite all the controversy surrounding water issues, so many volunteers have quietly stepped in and gotten their hands dirty on lots of valuable projects to help fish habitat and water quality," Godwin said.

To date, Master Watershed Stewards have contributed more than 14,000 hours of restoration work in 25 locations across the state.

News of the program's effectiveness has traveled far, drawing almost 300 inquiries from outside the state and around the world. International queries have come from Canada, Mexico, India, Pakistan and Botswana. Most are requests for assistance in setting up similar programs. The new CD will make it easier and more affordable to respond to future requests.

"Watershed Stewardship: A Learning Guide" (publication number EM 8714-CD) can be purchased through OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications at 800-561-6719 or email: puborders@oregonstate.edu.

For complete information about the Master Watershed Steward program visit the OSU Watershed Extension website at: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/wsep/

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Derek Godwin 503-566-2909

Medical Approach May Reduce Natural Resource Disputes

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A system that's been successful in the field of medicine to compare research results and seek a scientific consensus is being considered for use with natural resource management in Oregon - as a possible way to get past "dueling studies" and prolonged court fights.

A report on the concept, called "systematic evidence review," is being prepared by the Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University and will be presented to the Oregon Board of Forestry at its Jan. 4 meeting in Salem. The board has not yet determined if or how information in the report may be used when science is considered in future policy issues.

The problem, officials say, is that natural resource management approaches have too often become paralyzed by conflicting studies, ecological complexity, legal disputes and different goals. There's no guarantee that systematic evidence review, an approach that has been highly successful in medicine, will translate effectively to natural resource issues. But it may be worth a try, some experts say.

"In medicine, this approach emerged about 20 years ago in the United Kingdom as one way to bring some consistency and optimal practice to medical treatments," said Jeff Behan, an OSU research assistant with the Institute for Natural Resources. "It may help sort through the problems with dueling science, in which interest groups point to different studies and it's very difficult to reach a consensus."

The Board of Forestry identified systematic evidence review as an issue of interest, based in part on the testimony of former Gov. John Kitzhaber, said Rosemary Mannix of the Oregon Department of Forestry. The Institute of Natural Resources was asked to develop some background material and ideas on how these principles could be adapted to the natural resources arena.

This system is essentially a "turbo-charged literature review" with a clear protocol that's outlined before the review begins, Behan said, so the process is transparent and everyone can see how a conclusion is arrived at, on what basis, and with what qualifications. It can consider both peer-reviewed and published studies as well as other evidence, but the quality of evidence may be ranked and weighted based on various criteria. At the end of the process, the goal is to identify a credible, scientific consensus, even if one or more studies are at odds.

But the problem, researchers say, is that the natural world is not as simple as the human body.

"In the case of medicine, you are usually considering the effect of a single treatment on a single problem in a single species," Behan said.

"And the overall goal is also pretty clear - the health of the patient. For instance, you might want to see if aspirin reduces the risk of heart attacks. But in the natural world with multiple species, many variables and conflicting goals, it's often not that simple."

The strength of this process, experts say, is that you can start with a clearly defined and focused question, outline a protocol that will be used for reviewing evidence, decide what studies are relevant or not, and at the end of the process have some assurance that the process was both fair and comprehensive.

There remain questions about the use of this on issues that have limited data and broad scope.


Medicine has tens of billions of dollars of research each year to do exhaustive studies, while natural resources gets a tiny fraction of that - and even in medicine the results are often inconclusive due to inadequate data. Laboratory controls and double-blind studies in medicine allow a measure of certainty that is often lacking in the natural environment.

In medicine, the results can often be extrapolated to other people with similar medical situations, but in the natural world, ecosystems can vary widely over short distances. And the narrow focus of medicine is the opposite of an ecological setting with multiple species and poorly understood interactions.

"It won't be difficult to criticize the use of systematic evidence review in natural resources if that's what people want to do, and it may not be appropriate for every question," Behan said. "But in cases where we can narrow down the scope of questions and do solid studies, it appears it could have a place. And just going through the process may also help us identify what's a question of science and what's a question of values or philosophy."

For instance, if the question is the value of placing wood in streams to help salmon recovery - a single action to aid a single species - then systematic evidence review might work fairly well, Behan said.

"We won't suggest that this approach will solve all of our natural resource disputes," Behan said. "But it could give us a place to start, and it might move the ball down the field a ways. I think we're going to have to do a couple of test cases with this, before we really know how well it works, and our report will suggest that it's time to do this."

The idea, officials say, has attracted considerable interest from land management officials and agency leaders, and could ultimately be applied much more broadly around the nation.

"Occasionally the Board of Forestry receives conflicting scientific information, particularly from public testimony," said Steve Hobbs, chair of the Oregon Board of Forestry and executive associate dean of the OSU College of Forestry. "For some questions, a systematic evidence review would increase confidence in the information presented and help identify the most credible information."

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Jeff Behan, 541-737-9938

Log 'Smelling' Might Aid Forest Products Industry

CORVALLIS, Ore. - In the continuing effort to add value to forestry operations and improve efficiency, one of the latest ideas is to use "aroma tagging" of logs to track their movement from the forest to the mill and possibly even the finished product - a feat that might make a bloodhound envious.

Forestry researchers at Oregon State University have done some of the earliest work in this emerging field of study and outlined the challenges, which are many.

But with improved technology scientists may be able to apply various scents to trees and effectively track the movement of wood, in a competitive industry where every bit of information can add to a product's value.

Around the world, 5 billion logs a year are harvested and moved. They are not easy to track.

"We're trying to create a 'wood hound,' something that can track a tree by its smell," said Glen Murphy, a professor of forest engineering in the OSU College of Forestry. "It's hard to tell where all this may lead, but it's clear there would be ways to use this technology."

If you could track a log through the maze of the timber production system, Murphy said, there might be key advantages in marketing - the certification of "green" forest products, for instance, requires careful chain-of-custody monitoring. Measurements of a log made in the field could find immediate application in the timber mill, increasing production efficiency. If the wood quality from a certain area or type of forest stand was desirable, operators would be able to track where the wood came from and what forest management techniques were used to produce it.

And such technology might be very useful in preventing timber theft, experts say, along with the lost government taxes and revenues associated with it.

"At the moment, we have ways of tracking logs that are only partially effective," Murphy said. "Bar coding is awkward and leaves plastic tags or metal staples that can cause problems in mills. Radio frequency identification tags are very expensive; with some pulp logs they might cost more than the product you are selling. So we need improved technologies."

Aroma tagging, Murphy said, is already being used in the marketplace - some manufacturers have used it to help prevent brand piracy. The food industry uses electronic nose systems to measure freshness, the medical profession to detect disease, natural gas companies to detect leaks and in law enforcement to identify drugs or explosives.

The days when only a trained dog had the smell capability to track something are long past.

The technology uses an instrument that can detect specific chemical scents - with about 25 chemical scents in various combinations you could track more than 33 million logs, Murphy said. The spray-on technology is already available, but improvements need to be made in the chemicals and electronic nose used for this concept, which are based on sophisticated sensing and pattern recognition systems.

The ideal chemical tag would have to withstand harsh climatic conditions, be dragged over dirty ground, sit for weeks in the hold of a ship, or undergo processing with heat or preservatives.

"I think the right chemicals could deal with the issues of time, weather, and other wood treatments," Murphy said. "You need something you can apply that will still be detectable through the processing of the wood. Conceptually, this is a little like the unique code found in every animal's DNA, except it's something you can smell."

The technology of using aroma tagging only goes back about 10 years, Murphy said, and is still in its infancy in the timber industry. Work is needed to identify the most appropriate chemicals for tagging, develop better scent detection systems, and perfect other technologies. Additional funding is needed to move the technology into commercial use, he said.

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Glen Murphy: 541-737-2192

Daniel Boone Descendant Leaves Legacy for Wildlife Research

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The family of the late Marvin Boone Noble and Eva Barclay Noble have established a wildlife ecosystem fund at Oregon State University in their memory.

The Nobles, who were OSU alumni, left the university a bequest of 124 acres of land, valued at $377,000, in Hebo, Ore., near the site of the former Noble & Bittner Plug Company that Marvin Noble operated for many years. The couple's family decided to dedicate $342,000 of the gift to establish the Marvin and Eva Noble Wildlife Ecosystem Health Fund in the College of Forestry because it reflects the Nobles' commitment to education and love of wildlife as well as Marvin Noble's heritage as a descendant of the pioneer woodsman, Daniel Boone.

"The Noble Ecosystem Health Fund will enable OSU to expand studies of native wildlife and the forest and rangeland ecosystems where they live," said Hal Salwasser, dean of OSU's College of Forestry. "This gift is certainly a fitting tribute to Marvin and Eva Noble. As major contributors to the forest products industry, the Nobles believed in giving back to their community, and they had a deep love for Oregon State University."

The Noble fund will complement the Boone & Crockett Ecosystem Wildlife Health Fund, which was begun earlier this year by the big game hunting club named after Boone and Davy Crockett. Both funds will help educate students for natural resource careers and develop best practices for the management of native fish and wildlife habitats.

Ever since he was a young boy, Marvin Noble studied the life of his ancestor Daniel Boone. According to his daughter, Nancy Stevens, Noble would often recount how learning about Boone saved his life during World War II while fighting in the Pacific theater. When he found himself on the edge of a cliff, pinned down by enemy gunfire, an injured Noble recalled how Boone had escaped from a similar situation. Noble, who had been shot in both his shoulder and wrist, jumped off the cliff and grabbed at tree limbs with his uninjured arm, slowing his fall to the ravine floor.

His interest in Daniel Boone continued throughout his life, fueling his passion for hunting and wildlife.

"My father would be smiling to know how the gift will be used," said Stevens. "Both my parents graduated from OSU and have always thought that education was one of the most important things you could do for yourself, your family and the community."

Eva Noble, who also came from a pioneer family, shared her husband's love for wildlife and for learning. She graduated from OSU in 1941 and taught high school for several years. Marvin Noble earned his degree from OSU in fisheries and wildlife in 1938. Although they attended the university at different times, Marvin and Eva Noble met on a blind date at a dance in OSU's Memorial Union. They were married for 61 years and continued to take classes long after graduation.

The Nobles were active community members, including deep involvement with the Tillamook County school board, YMCA, community college, library and museum. In 2000, they established a scholarship to help Nestucca High School graduates attend college. The Nobles were also very loyal to OSU, attending many football games and alumni events.

They particularly enjoyed the marching band, and their gift will also provide $35,000 for the Marvin and Eva Noble Family Marching Band Endowment at OSU.


Hal Salwasser, 541-737-1585

OSU profs take conservation biology ideas to Croatia

CORVALLIS, Ore. - In a country still reeling from a fierce civil war, where many buildings are pock-marked by bullet holes and other battle scars, building an economy based on eco-tourism is a concept that seems rather optimistic.

But the natural beauty of Croatia, combined with a growing national movement of conservation biology, suggests the idea may not be so far-fetched. And the idea of using natural resources as a way to gain an economic toehold in the new European Union may be gaining popularity in other small nations.

Two Oregon State University fisheries and wildlife biologists returned recently from Rovinj, Croatia, where they were invited to present an intense short course in conservation biology by the Croatian Biological Society. And though the focus of their presentations wasn't necessarily on the economic potential of nature, the interest was definitely there, they say.

"Croatia is now where Costa Rica was in the 1970s," said Scott Heppell, a fisheries ecologist and physiologist in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Costa Rica made a decision to have an economy that is largely centered around natural resource-based tourism. That doesn't just happen. You have to plan for it."

Selina Heppell, a wildlife population biologist who is married to Scott, pointed out that Croatia's conservation efforts to date have largely revolved around setting aside parks and recording natural history. What the country hasn't done, she added, was use science to determine best management practices.

"Because of the war and the emerging European Union, there has been pressure to catch up economically," Selina Heppell said. "Scientists in nature conservation have not been very effective voices in that debate. For most people, the knowledge that 200 different species of sponges live along a section of the coastline isn't a compelling reason to not pour sewage into the ocean."

That may be changing. In their course, the Heppells worked with 22 graduate students and post-docs from six different countries - Poland, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. They represent a growing movement in European academic circles to better incorporate science into natural resource management and at least explore nature-based tourism as an economic alternative.

Comparisons to the United States - even in its early days of conservation biology popularized by Aldo Leopold, John Muir and others - are difficult to make, the Heppells say.

"The U.S. has always had this huge land mass with tremendous natural resources," said Selina Heppell. "The Croatians, and most other small European countries, don't have that luxury. It isn't just a matter of size, but also of age. Humans have had an impact on the landscape in Europe - in an industrial sense - for thousands of years longer than we have.

"They're not going to be able to set aside Yellowstone-sized tracts of land."

Over a six-day period, the OSU ecologists presented 20 different lectures on a variety of topics, including the use of science in conservation biology, biodiversity, wildlife population trends, extinction risks, exotic species, climate change, marine resources and others. They emphasized the science of conservation biology - evidence-based, hypothesis-driven research to understand the responses of nature to human perturbations.

Their international class of students quickly adapted to the Heppells' American style of teaching - which they describe as interactive and conversational, as opposed to lecture-oriented. Missing from the conversation, they point out, were government officials who could help take conservation biology concepts to the realm of policy.

"We talked with lots of faculty and a few administrators, which is the appropriate level, because the push for conservation biology will start at the university level first," Selina Heppell said. "The University of Zagreb is going through major curriculum changes to be accepted into the European Union, and faculty see this as a chance to incorporate the science of conservation biology into the university."

The Heppells also had a chance to tour parts of the country, especially the scenic coastline, which is dotted with numerous offshore islands in the Adriatic Sea. Croatia is home to small numbers of European brown bears, as well as wolves, fur-bearing mammals called kuna that are in the fisher family, and numerous birds, including the world's only coastal population of griffon vultures. The coastal area includes endangered sea turtles and dolphins.

Situated between the land masses of Europe and the Middle East, Croatia boasts a remarkable level of biodiversity for a country its size, the Heppells point out. There is strong potential for eco-tourism in the natural areas of the mountains and coast, they add, but the protection and management of these lands will require careful planning.

"The country is starting over in many ways," said Scott Heppell. "They're transforming from a Soviet industrial model to some new kind of economic system, and at the same time, recovering from a civil war. But Croatia is starting to rebuild and rethink itself. The Canadian and German governments are helping to rebuild houses in abandoned communities so people will have something to come back to.

"The Croatians are thinking in news ways about economics and about their natural resources," he added. "The two may go hand-in-hand." The Heppells have been invited to return to Croatia in May and teach a new set of courses.

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Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039

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OSU researchers track contaminants to the most pristine areas

CORVALLIS, Ore. - High in mountain lakes and far north in Alaskan wilderness, researchers from Oregon State University are finding some of the world's most toxic chemicals, possibly from sources as far away as Europe and Asia.

"We've found persistent chemicals - such as mercury and PCBs - in lakes in very remote areas," said Michael Kent, director of the center for salmon disease research at OSU. "And we've found evidence of toxic effects in fish in these lakes."

Kent heads the fish pathology investigation of the Western Airborne Contaminant Assessment Program (WACAP), a collaboration of government and university scientists conducting a six-year study in national parks from California to Alaska.

Far from the crowds of national park visitors, OSU researchers trek to wilderness lakes in the high Sierras, Rockies, and Cascade Mountains, as well as Alaska back country. They carry the bare essentials: 2,000 pounds of scientific equipment, inflatable boats, hand pumps, dry ice, food and shelter for eight people for three days. In the winter, they sample the snowpack and return with sleds and backpacks full of frozen samples. They are measuring mercury and other contaminants in snow, soil, air, water, fish and vegetation in places once thought to be among the most pristine areas in the world.

"Places that are far removed from human activity, places high in altitude or high in latitude, were thought to be pristine," said Carl Schreck, a professor in OSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife who heads the fish physiology investigations. "They are not. Nothing is pristine anymore, and that makes it hard to determine a baseline for measuring environmental change."

The researchers' sampling methods target different time periods. They sample this year's snowpack to get a snapshot of current airborne pollutants; they examine lake sediments for evidence from as far back as the 1870s.

"We have seen physiological and pathological changes in the fish in these lakes and we have seen an accumulation of toxic chemicals in the water that could only have come in by air," Kent said.

Although the specific sources of these airborne contaminants are as yet unknown, other studies have shown that air masses can cross the Pacific Ocean from Asia to North America in just a few days.

These air masses can carry coal smoke (a major source of mercury) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) emitted from industrial sites in Russia, China and elsewhere. When the air masses hit the mountains of western North America, the pollutants they carry begin to settle.

Staci Simonich, a professor in OSU's Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, is an expert in tracking signatures of airborne pollutants in global air currents. She leads the project's assessment of persistent organic pollutants.

"These compounds can travel long distances in the atmosphere, and they concentrate in cold environments." Simonich explained. "Their chemistry allows them to volatilize and rise, then settle out for a time before volatilizing and rising again. As they warm and cool they hop-scotch their way into higher elevations."

Many of these organic compounds settle in fatty tissues of fish, wildlife - and humans - and can reduce immune functions and reproductive success, and increase risk of cancer. Preliminary results indicate the presence of persistent organic pollutants, including compounds banned in the U.S. such as dieldrin, in water, snow and lichen at several of the study sites.

The Western Airborne Contaminant Assessment Program has study sites in eight parks at high elevation or high latitude, including Sequoia, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Olympic, Mount Rainier, Denali, Noatak, and Gates of the Arctic national parks.

These are remote places. In one of the study sites in Alaska, no one had visited the place since the team was there two years earlier.

"A float plane drops us off with all our equipment, and we hope the weather holds so the plane can come back to get us in three or four days," said Adam Schwindt, an OSU researcher with the WACAP team. "We're catching and dissecting fish all day, in a place surrounded by brown bears."

After thorough laboratory and data analyses, the researchers will report their findings on the contaminant impacts to high elevation and high latitude ecosystems to the National Park Service in 2007.

"National parks as remote, ecologically sensitive sites may become the bellwether to understand the environmental impact of these toxic compounds in North America," said Dixon Landers, WACAP's lead scientist from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Western Ecology Division.

For more information on the project, go online at: http://www2.nature.nps.gov/air/studies/air_toxics/wacap.cfm

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Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194

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Anti-biotech groups obstruct forest biotechnology

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The potential of forest biotechnology to help address significant social and environmental issues is being “strangled at birth” by the rigid opposition of some groups and regulations that effectively preclude even the testing of genetically modified trees, scientists argue in a new report.

Steps must be taken to create a regulatory environment that considers genetically modified trees on a scientific, case-by-case basis, and is focused on the end product rather than the process, say researchers from Oregon State University, Carnegie Mellon University and other institutions in an article in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Lacking that, the potential will be lost to use this powerful tool to create trees that grow faster, better resist drought or disease, restore threatened species, reduce costs, contribute to renewable energy, sequester carbon, improve environmental cleanup, and produce badly needed products for global consumers, the scientists said.

“This is a noose that’s been slowly tightening for many years,” said Steven Strauss, a distinguished professor of forest biotechnology at OSU, and one of the world’s leaders in the application of genetic science to forestry.

“Everyone wants safe and responsible regulations that protect the environment,” Strauss said. “But some extreme opponents who see anything that is genetically modified as a mortal sin are successfully putting in place details that will make it virtually impossible to move ahead with genetic modification in forestry or woody energy crops.

“They don’t even want to see field research,” Strauss said, “which is required for analysis of ecological effects as well as benefits, and they have been making strides toward shutting the industry down.”

Some major successes with biotechnology have taken place in crop agriculture, Strauss said, and because of the enormous benefits, that industry has learned to wade through the regulatory maze and bureaucratic hurdles in a number of countries, including the United States. By contrast, genetic modification studies in forest trees take longer, require work with more diverse species, and have larger environmental restrictions on research and application.

“Opponents are taking advantage of the well-intentioned but vague language in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the associated Cartagena Protocol to stimulate the imposition of regulations that make progress almost impossible,” Strauss said. “They treat a small-scale research plot the same as use of a genetically-modified tree over an entire region.”

And while earlier kinds of genetically modified trees almost exclusively contained genes from other species, many current advances are being made with native genes and natural growth processes, which are increasing as genomic science advances. No distinction is being allowed for that type of science, the researchers said.

The researchers said they believe that the convention has become a “platform for imposing broad restrictions on research and development of all types of transgenic trees regardless of their ecological and economic benefits.”

This convention is one of the largest international treaties, first developed in 1992, and was initially designed to protect biodiversity, not preclude use of genetically modified organisms.

“The activism against genetically modified trees through the Convention on Biological Diversity has been against all forms of genetic modification, regardless of the goals or environmental benefits sought,” the researchers wrote in their report. “This activism has also been in direct opposition to widespread scientific and professional opinion from around the world, including from ecologists, that the trait, not the recombinant method, should be the focus of assessments.”

Another key part of the problem, the researchers said, is finding enough scientists to participate in contentious and time-consuming debates where “the quality of scientific discussions tend to be extremely low and highly combative.”

The researchers believe that major changes in the structure and interpretation of the treaty are required to prevent its continued misuse in ways that they argue “is clearly against its original spirit and intent.”

Editor’s Note: The full article in Nature Biotechnology can be found at this URL: http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v27/n6/full/nbt0609-519.html

Story By: 

Steven Strauss, 541-760-7357

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Genetically modified trees
Genetically-modified trees

Starker lectures to address local impacts, global trends

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Four national experts will speak at the 2005 Starker Lectures at Oregon State University, on the theme "Local Impacts of Global Trends."

The Starker Lectures are supported by the OSU College of Forestry and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, and are free and open to the public. They can also be streamed live to personal computers at http://oregonstate.edu/media/events/php, seen on local cable television, and will be re-broadcast on the Oregon Public Affairs Network.

The forestry and other scientists in this year's lecture series are:

  • Oct. 27: Lloyd C. Irland, lecturer and senior scientist with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, will present "U.S. Forest Ownership: Historic and Global Perspective," at 4 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus;
  • Nov. 3: Diane Snyder, executive director of Wallowa Resources and member of the Oregon State Board of Forestry, will speak on "Global Changes, Local Actions: Managing Change in Rural Wallowa County," at 4 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center;
  • Nov. 17: Patricia Marchak, sociologist with the Liu Institute for Global Issues and emeritus professor at the University of British Columbia, will speak on "The State of Nature and the Nature of States" at 4 p.m. in Room 107 of Richardson Hall on the OSU campus;
  • Dec. 1: Clark Binkley, managing director of International Forestry Investment Advisors, will present "From Timber Famine to the Wall of Wood: Implications for the Timberland Investors and the Pacific Northwest," at 4 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center.

    The Starker Lectures are sponsored by the Starker family, in honor of T.J. and Bruce Starker, prominent leaders in Oregon's development of modern forest management.

  • Story By: 

    College of Forestry, 541-737-2004